The Reality of Loneliness in Ministry

I knew how taxing the ministry was going to be. But no one told me how being in leadership meant going through loneliness.

A recent study has revealed that among Protestant Pastors one of the greatest needs is discouragement and depression. The stress of ministry so often leads to loneliness in a lack of friendship with others.

This is understandable, as I serve as a Senior Pastor myself. So much of the training pastors receive in seminary is how to lead through theological doctrinal differences and correct those thoughts.

However, the reality is that over 19,000 congregations experience conflict every year. Out of that only, 2% involve doctrinal issues; the other 98% is interpersonal in nature.

A survey of 506 pastors revealed 95% experience conflict, sadly only 16% reported reconciliation as a positive outcome. 4 in 10 left their position, 38% of members left their church.

I knew ministry will be tough, but there are no words to describe the piercing wound a pastor experience when church members share that they are leaving the church. Even further, nobody ever told me how painful it is where people whom you trust turn around and betray your friendship.

Ultimately, out of all the surveys, the leading causes (85%) of church conflict is a matter of, “control issue”

As a result? There are two responses.

  1. Escape route: live in denial by avoiding the problems that exist. This often happens when people leave the church, quit their job, or get a divorce.
  2. Attack route: begin to use intimidation tactics by gossiping and slandering others. At times this will manifest by getting a band of people to fire the pastor at business meetings.

Both are ungodly ways to deal with conflict. If not dealt with properly, this damages the relationship detrimentally and destroys the Christian witness amongst the community.

As a result? Leaders avoid conflict and overlook an offense which often leads to loneliness. Church conflict is inevitable. Therefore, conflict is not the problem but avoiding conflict resolution is.

Ministry leaders are in doubt and feel as though they are alone in isolation and separation from people. The weight of ministry secludes the leader from others and goes through the dark road of loneliness. The higher one climbs up the ladder of ministry, information is confined and trusted not able to share or disclose in confidentiality.

The truth of the hard lesson in leadership is dealing with loneliness.

 

Spurgeon Fought Against Discouragement and Depression in Loneliness 

Charles Spurgeon is considered perhaps one of the greatest preachers in the history of all Christianity.

While other pastors were preaching how to be good Christians, Spurgeon countered by simply preaching and behold Christ’s glory and to be saved.

Through joy and sorrow, Spurgeon felt the weight of ministry and at times would even collapse in so much discouragement people needed to escort him out to be rested and restored. He would at times become very depressed and at times he could hardly do anything, to the point he couldn’t even read the Bible.

Spurgeon would drown himself in tears and people feared he would never preach again as he blamed himself for feeling the responsibility of ministry weighed him down.

The reality of discouragement did not get better for both him and his wife. Both of their health began to fail to the point in 1869, Spurgeon felt such terrible pain that he thought a cobra had bitten him (gout). Spurgeon dealt with many other illnesses that drew him into a greater depression that he had to take frequent vacations away in France.

Spurgeon was hated for his biblical convictional voice that he was disdained by the Americans and was not invited back to speak in the country. Spurgeon fought against the false teachings at the brink of neo-orthodoxy that denied the inerrancy of Scripture as the Bible was no longer inspired by God. This period was called, “The Down-Grade Controversy” in which Spurgeon was forced to resign from the network of other pastors from the Baptist Union, including his students from his Pastor’s College who turned against him.

During a busy schedule, the stress of ministry, the loneliness that taunted him, Spurgeon as much tried to find rest at his home. He had to let go of many of his duties and Susie (his wife) became the anchor in prayer as he faced the reality of loneliness in ministry.

 

6 Lessons Learned Through the Reality of Loneliness 

As Christians, we should not be surprised by all the difficulties that we face with people that can lead to loneliness. Scripture clearly states this is a war that wages within.

 

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:1-3).

(1) It will be a myth to believe that healthy churches do not have conflict and mature leaders overcome the discouragement of loneliness. God is not the author of chaos, but the provider who leads his people to peace.

 

“He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Phil 2:8-10). 

(2) Look to Christ amid your loneliness. You and I are part of a greater story where the victory has already been won through the purchased blood of our precious Savior. 

 

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15).

(3) Your suffering allows you to have greater compassion and sympathy for those who live in loneliness and depression. God allows you to grow in greater love and patience for those who are suffering. 

 

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Pet 5:8-9). 

(4) Part of ministry is going through the school of tribulation. Unless one goes through, never learns to get strong. As A.W. Tozer puts it well in the book Root of Righteousness, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply”

 

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Prov 18:24). 

(5) Ministry indeed is lonely as you are ministering to many people in the flock. Pastors are constantly pouring into the lives of many and so often receive little in return. However, there are truly few men you can trust that become lifetime friends. Pray to God, he will send you a friend that sticks closer than a brother. 

 

“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” (1 Cor 14:20). 

(6) True spiritual maturity is not based on education or even age. Truly spiritual maturity comes from steadiness and patience. As one preacher puts it this way, truly visible maturity is shown only when THEY DON’T GET THEIR WAY. Then you see their true nature. 

1 thought on “The Reality of Loneliness in Ministry”

  1. This is an interesting article in several ways. I wonder if you truly suffer loneliness and discouragement and despair or if you’re simply writing on a topic that you know to be true.

    As I read your article, I vacillated between empathy for your lonely, betrayed “needy” position, to feeling gladness that, later in your article, you had figured out what was wrong and how to handle it.

    For five years I had a ministry at Watkins Mill Park Camp for incarcerated youth. Many nights I would be driving home after a session with one or more of the groups out there, and discouraged, I would recite Isaiah 53:1 to myself, Lord, “Who has believed our message?”

    Then, on other occasions I would drive home on cloud nine because the kids really got it. Seemingly got the truth of our teaching, got the truth of God’s Word, understood.

    God has given us the tools we need to “work our way” out of life’s psychological holes. They are prayer, reading our Bible, having a companion who deeply loves us (wives/husbands), whom we can talk to on the deepest levels, and one or more personal, godly, friends.

    Locomotives, are big, heavy, powerful machines that can pull extremely heavy loads at a rapid pace … as long as it stays on the tracks, but that same powerful machine is absolutely helpless if something causes it to jump off the tracks.

    Once its lying on its side off the tracks, it needs some serious and laborious attention. With enough intervention, from the right people, it can be rescued and put back into useful service.

    We’re the same, but unlike a mechanical piece of machinery, we have intelligence and emotion AND memory. We are hurt more easily than the train. That’s where God’s tools, that He’s given us, come to our rescue …. every time.

    Use ‘em.

    Just thinkin’ ……🙂

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